Crème Caramel ~ Flan

Made throughout Latin America and Spain, Flan can be found at many reputable restaurants or pastry shops in these regions that sell the best of the best.  This popular dessert is also loved in France where it is called Crème Caramel and is made into individual servings or into one large custard.  It's no mystery to me why it's so popular, because it is such a perfect dessert to end just about any meal.  Light, smooth & silky in consistency, Flan is crowned with a most delicious caramel that glistens when it's unmolded.  But, whether you call it a Flan or Crème Caramel, I think every home baker ought to make this showstopping dessert at least once or twice during the year.  The only thing that may seem intimidating about making the custard is the caramel itself.  With a few tips and things to remember, it too is quite easy.

Crème Caramel ~ Flan

I first had the pleasure of tasting a good, homemade Flan many years ago while traveling in Mexico with a group of friends.  Our hostess, Mrs. Hernandez, treated us to some pretty amazing food from the region we were visiting at the time, and it was on one of these occasions that her daughter, Hilda, presented us with this tasty dessert.  Like a professional, Hilda effortlessly unmolded the Flan onto a serving plate and what came out was a most spectacular custard covered in the sweetest of caramels. 

A slice served on a lustre ware plate.

That particular Flan has stayed in my food memory for over a decade and it is one I will never forget.  Over a decade later I was finally able to catch up with Hilda and get the recipe from her without a moment to lose; I did not want to pass the opportunity to have it in my files!  I'm so thrilled that she kindly allowed me to have it and was willing to have me share it with you.  Let's go step by step through this simple, but utterly scrumptious dessert which has been in Hilda's family for many years.  I think you're going to like it!

The Ingredients
  • 1 cup pure cane, granulated sugar {195 grams}
  • 5 large eggs, room temperature
  • One 12 oz. can {354 ml} evaporated milk or 1 1/2 cups whole milk, room temperature
  • One 14 oz. can {396 grams} sweetened condensed milk
Note: although Hilda doesn't add it to hers, her other siblings who make this dessert add a 1/2 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract to the custard.

Equipment: 2 quart saucepan, 2 quart baking dish (souffle dish, pie plate, 8" or 9" round cake pan), large roasting pan to set the baking dish in.

Center oven racks and preheat to 325° F (163° C)
Fill a kettle with water & bring to a boil.

I like using a deep/narrow 2 quart saucepan with a long handle to make the caramel.

For making caramel I prefer to use pure cane sugar because it doesn't have the impurities of beet sugar, which may crystallize and ruin your caramel.  Pure cane sugar is labeled as such on the packaging.  Beet sugar is simply labeled 'Sugar'.  By the way, there are two methods for making caramel: wet & dry.  The wet method involves adding water to the sugar and bringing it up to a boil.  The dry method uses sugar & nothing else.

Place the sugar in the saucepan and set it over medium-high heat.  Keep a couple of kitchen towels handy or pot holders in case your handle gets hot.  After a few minutes, you will begin to see the edge of the sugar liquefy.

DO NOT walk away from this procedure; keep pets & children away from the area you're working in. 

After a few more minutes you will begin to see the sugar start to melt.  Begin tilting & swirling the saucepan and under no circumstances should you use any implement to stir it.

The caramel will take on a dark amber color.  You can see that several pieces of my sugar have not melted completely.  Tilt & swirl the pan as you do this to get everything melted evenly.  If you need to move the pot away from the heat as you do this, by all means do.  You don't want the caramel to burn or else it will be bitter and you will have to start over.

 I'm tilting the pot here to get everything melted evenly.

 Voilà!  The caramel is done when it looks like this.  Quickly, but carefully take it off the heat. 

Immediately pour the caramel into the baking pan (set the baking pan into a large roasting pan), which should be nearby.  I like to make sure I get it all the way around the bottom of the baking pan.  Do not scrape out the pot of whatever is left in there.  Take two oven mitts or kitchen towels and quickly tilt & swirl the pan with the caramel so that it is evenly coated on the bottom.  

Note:  the baking pan will get extremely hot, so use those pot holders. 

Immediately add cold water into the saucepan that had the caramel and let it soak in your sink.  

DO NOT be tempted to stick your finger in the caramel to taste.  It is HOT & will cause severe BURNS

Set the baking pan aside as you combine the other ingredients.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs until well blended.

Add the milk & sweetened condensed milk; whisk to combine thoroughly.  If adding vanilla extract do it now.

Pour the custard through a fine mesh sieve into the baking pan with the caramel.  You will immediately hear it hiss & crackle.

Add boiling water to come halfway up the sides of the baking pan, being careful not to splash any onto the custard.  This is a bain marie!

Carefully place the roasting pan into the oven and bake for approximately: 50 minutes to 1 hour & 10 minutes

When done, the custard will jiggle slightly (like jello) and a knife inserted in the middle will come out clean. 

Carefully place the custard onto a rack & let it cool completely.  Once cool, cover the pan in plastic wrap & chill in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight.  The Flan has to be served chilled.

When ready to serve, place the baking pan in a pan filled with hot water for about 30 seconds.  Run a sharp pairing knife around the edges of the custard to loosen.  You will see the caramel come through the sides as you do this.  If you swirl the pan, the caramel should rotate freely.  When it does, you know it will release effortlessly.

Find a nice cake stand with a lip around the plate or a serving plate deep enough to catch the caramel.  Place it over the baking pan.  Quickly flip everything.

The Crème Caramel ~ Flan will release & drop onto the serving plate.  This is what you will end up with.  Beautiful!

The custard will keep in the refrigerator, well covered, for up to 2 days.  This should make 8 to 10 servings.

Slice as you would a cake and serve immediately.  A good custard will slice perfectly and will be ultra smooth. 


Enjoy every bite of this classic dessert.  Thank you Hilda!